Broadcasting Blues: The challenges of getting clubs on TV in the Premier League’s overseas markets

19 May

With the announcement earlier this year that the domestic rights for the Premier League had been sold for over £5 billion for a three-year cycle there will be few who would bet against the announcement that the bidding for the 2016-19 cycle of overseas Premier League television rights will similarly result in a big increase in revenue. Respected blogger The Swiss Ramble puts in an estimate that this will rise from a current figure of around £2.2 billion to £2.9 billion – whilst pointing out that others have predicted an even bigger rise.

The successes in marketing the Premier League product however, can be in sharp contrast to the experience of clubs in the territories where the games are broadcast. One such place is New Zealand where the challenge continues to be getting broadcasters even interested in indigenous football.

While Wellington Phoenix, who compete in Australia’s A-league, do enjoy some screen time they are very much the exception – and even they have faced criticism from some quarters about low viewing figures compared. The country’s flagship club tournament, the ASB Premiership, a summer tournament made of franchise clubs, continues to be dogged by a lack of broadcaster interest which have led to real concerns about its future.

These concerns have necessitated a rethink of the league’s structure in a specific bid to broaden its televisual appeal. As Andy Martin New Zealand Football’s Chief Executive recently announced:

What we’re doing is looking at a competition that, at the moment, is not on television and is not as sustainable as it might be, so there’s a lot of dependency on trust funding and some of the clubs aren’t as financially secure as we might want them to be,

Working with clubs, regional federations, various experts and the broadcaster Sky plans are currently in the development stage with details likely to be unveiled later in the year. Periodic format changes have however, been something of a hallmark of football in New Zealand and the current format is itself barely a decade old.

Familiar observers may question whether another change will really achieve the desired change. It is also likely to do little for the games winter clubs who make up the backbone of grass-roots football in the country. It is these clubs who contest the Chatham Cup. First played in 1923 the cup is New Zealand’s oldest tournament, but despite being described – in terms not unlike those used to talk about the FA Cup – as a ‘national institution’ even the final itself can go without being screened. In 2013 the game appeared only on local television network Canterbury Television, and even then was not live while in 2014, for the final between Central United and Cashmere Technical, New Zealand Football took matters into their own hands and carried out a pilot in streaming the game live on the internet.

Whether this, or the impending restructure of the ASB Premiership, offers any hope for the future in terms of getting New Zealand’s football clubs on, at the very least, domestic television screens is an open question. In a country with a population of just over 4.5 million and where local football must compete with not just Rugby, but the English Premier League for people’s affections and attention the challenge is a formidable one.

It is of course difficult to say just what the overall impact of the Premier League is on the domestic game in places such as New Zealand and whether this is damaging, or even perhaps beneficial. As the amount of revenue the Premiership generates from overseas broadcast rights grow however, questions need to be asked about what the league’s wider grass-roots responsibilities are in the all the places where it generates revenue.

Player Autobiographies – an analysis of what’s on the shelves

15 May

Recently I carried out an experiment. On a day trip to the lovely city of Chichester I visited the local Waterstone’s and headed straight for the football section; The aim was to jot down all the football autobiographies on sale and then do some analysis. In total there were 16 different titles – these are the results:

Player Biographies

The biggest single characteristic the group shared was top flight experience, either as a player, or manager. The sole representative from outside the top flight was Ben Smith with an autobiography titled Journeyman: One man’s odyssey through the lower leagues of English football. In this case the lack of a top-flight career is the unique selling point of the book. This is very much in the vein of books like Garry Nelson’s Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer, published back in 1996. 

The second most common characteristic among authors is that three quarters have retired from playing. There is a good reason for this; An autobiography written mid-career makes for a dull read; it lacks the distance necessary for proper reflection and the author isn’t going to want to damage their career prospects by settling scores, or by revealing their love of wild partying and addiction to gambling. As Joyce Woolridge recalled in an article on player autobiographies for When Saturday Comes Stanley Matthews dad had once remarked “What folk will bother to sit down and read the comings and goings of a lad of 23? When you have really lived and have a story worth telling that may benefit the community, then by all means get down to the task of writing your story.”

69% of the authors had a British, or Irish nationality. The exceptions were, Sven Goran Ericcson, Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It will be interesting to see whether this changes as the number of foreign players in the Premier League has grown. In part the explanation for the low number of autobiographies by foreign players is that as most authors put pen to paper (or rather speak into a ghost-writers dictaphone) after retirement (see above), but even allowing for a time lag, this number seems low. Similarly there have traditionally been very few autobiographies translated into English from players who have had their entire career abroad, even very notable ones – certainly you’re not likely to see Oliver Khan’s Ich. Erfolg kommt von innen (translation; I. Success comes from within) appearing in Waterstones anytime soon.

The majority of authors were also full-internationals – 69%. This is because autobiographies only tend to get written by top players – and these invariably have graced the international stage at some stage in their career. Among those without international honours was Sven Goran Eriksson who was of course an international manager and Sir Alex Fergusson who although not gaining a full cap did play a number of games for a Scotland XI on a tour.

Finally 31% of authors had a connection to Manchester United. Although this is low compared to the other figures when it is considered that Manchester United are simply one of 20 top flight clubs it is possible to see how disproportionate this actually is. Undoubtedly much of this stems from Manchester United’s dominance in the 1990s when every other person in my school appeared to support Man U. The economics behind this is, of course, that players associated with better supported teams will be more likely to see their autobiography on Waterstones shelves as fans like to read about players who have been at their club, either through affection for that player, or for a glimpse behind the scenes that it may offer.

The list of ‘authors’

Trevor Brooking

Alex Ferguson

Dennis Bergkamp

Paul Lake

Andrea Pirlo

Stephen Gerrard

Sven Goran Eriksson

Ryan Giggs

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Gary Neville

Vinnie Jones

Paul McGrath

Roy Keane

Ben Smith

Alan Stubbs

Sergio Aguero

Hampshire Senior Cup Final: Gosport Borough v Sholing – Fratton Park 5th May 2015

6 May

Hampshire Cup presentation

Substituted with just over 10 minutes to go Sholing player Kevin Brewster was bestowed with the biggest cheer received by any Sholing player on the night, issued by the row of girls sat behind me who it seems had taken the trip along the Solent at the defenders behest. The girls weren’t that impressed by the experience though; “He made us come here” complained one.

Aside from this selfie-stick wilding bunch  (who I gathered probably wouldn’t label themselves fans) there were few Sholing supporters of any kind in evidence. This fact was remarked on by a Gosport fan just before kick off. I gave him several reasons for this the two most compelling being that Sholing weren’t a well supported club, a legacy of being an ex works side “hmmm, they only took 7,000 to Wembley” he mused in concurrence, referring to last years FA Vase final. They other equally compelling reason is that who’d want to parade their red and white striped scarf through Fratton? Other unmentioned reasons were that it was a Monday night, it was cold and the M27 becomes a car park at this time of evening.

Of course there were a few Sholing fans there. These however, only made themselves apparent a few minutes before the end of the game as they scrambled out to make the 21.42 south West Trains service from Fratton station to Sholing.That was my train too, but witnessing the heckling this group endured and the furtive glances of at least one of their number I decided to stay incognito and to remain in my seat for the final whistle and the trophy presentation. Besides I have an aversion to even missing one second of football that I’ve paid to enjoy. If it meant sitting on a cold platform for the best part of an hour then so be it.

There was little real point to this stubbornness, by this point the game had long since been up for plucky Sholing. Despite their being two divisions below Gosport the first half had been remarkably evenly matched, the sides only separated by a rather generous penalty converted by Borough legend Justin ‘Benno’ Bennett and and kept separate through the fingertips of Nathan Ashmore – a goalkeeper dubbed ‘England’s number one’ by the Gosport fans –  who stayed alert to divert a stinging drive from the unmarked Alex Sawyer over the bar.

The second half had seen Gosport establish a controlling position when Alex Wilde’s free-kick found the net on 59 minutes. Although there were a few signs of resistance as Sholing’s fighting spirit saw, among other things, a chance at one end as substitute Tobi Adekunle clipped the Gosport post and at the other end a spectacular goal-line clearance the game appeared to be moving to a foregone conclusion. And so it was. Moments after the Sholing fans made their exit Matt Patterson made it 3-0 in injury time, deservedly getting on the score-sheet after an evening tirelessly harrying the Sholing defence. Ironically at this moment I’d looked away to jot down a note about something of no real consequence. As I looked up again I saw the ball trickle into the net.

3-0 to Gosport Borough

Project Future Football

30 Mar

Background:

For a while I’ve wanted to do something which brings bloggers together in a collective endeavour – a bit like the excellent League of Blogs which the Football Attic have done for the past few years where bloggers design a kit and badge based on a Subbuteo template. Reading about the history of football recently it struck me how much has changed in a relatively short space of time. I thought of writing a post for my blog where I’d get all Tomorrows-worldy and make predictions about football in 25, 50 and 150 years time. However, before engaging in some solitary typing away during my free-time I had the thought that it would be much better and more fun to see how other bloggers saw the future. Then I had the idea of collating all these views and self-publishing an anthology of writing.

The cause:

My next thought would be that it would be even better if the money generated as a result of this project went to a football related charity. A search came up with Street League, a registered charity whose work seems to fit with the whole idea of looking to the future. Their website describes their work:

We specialise in changing the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds through the power of football. Originally founded as an organisation working with homeless people in 2001, we now work with 16 to 25-year-olds who are not in employment, education and training (NEET). Our vision is to help bring an end to structural youth unemployment in the UK. With almost one million young people out of work, youth unemployment is the single biggest threat to the future prosperity of our country. You can read about the scale of the problem here. Street League engages with these young people in a structured football and education ‘Academy’ programme, with two hours in the classroom and two hours on the pitch each day. This intensive 10-week programme develops vital employability skills such as communication, teamwork and goal-setting. It also offers nationally-recognised qualifications.

How to get involved:

The anthology will be broken down into three themed sections: Football in 2040, football in 2065 and football in 2165. What I’m looking for is articles of between 500-1500 words which fit around these themes. Apart from this there is no restrictions, you can focus on anything; whether it’s your prediction for who will win the Champions League (if indeed it still exists), the state of football in the USA, or China, player salaries, stadia design, rule-changes, literally anything you like – In fact the more diversity the better.

The deadline for submissions is the 31st May. These should be sent to row.z.football@gmail.com along with a 150-200 word bio, including details of your blog (if any). This bio will be published alongside your article.

 FAQ

Will my work be credited to me?

Yes, all work will be fully credited and the author clearly identified with a bio (if supplied) appearing alongside. You will retain all rights to the work.

Can I submit more than one piece?

Yes, by all means.

Can I send artwork?

It would be great to include artwork. I would ask though that this is in black & white as any colour pieces push up the production costs of the physical book significantly.

What is your role?

I will compile, edit and format the submitted articles (as well as contributing one of my own). I will then upload the finished manuscript to Amazon Createspace where it can be purchased as both a physical book, or as a kindle edition. This will enable the anthology to have the widest possible audience.

What will be donated to Street League?

Fees are automatically deducted by Amazon on a unit-by-unit basis. After this the remainder of the proceeds will be donated to Street League.

How successful will the book be?

I’m optimistic that with the backing and reach of the blogging community this project can be a success. Whilst helping Street League, this will also gain publicity for your writing and provide a template for future collective projects among the blogging community.

Do I need to be a blogger to get involved?

Not at all, anyone with an interest in football and football writing is more than welcome to participate. The more the merrier.

Premier League – losing the attendance battle?

16 Mar

Recently Í wrote an article on Premier League attendances for the When Saturday Comes website. My argument involved pointing out the irony that just as the Premier League had concluded yet another record breaking deal, when it came to actual live spectators its record has been less good – in fact for over a decade, since the early noughties, the average attendance figure has been virtually static. I also argued that I felt not enough of the TV money coming into the league is being set aside for stadia development. It is these issues which I turn to in more detail.

The 90’s stadia boom

Looking through my old Premier League 95 sticker album one of the most striking things is the number of pictures of half-built stadia; The Taylor report, new sources of finance, and the impetus provided by Euro ’96 – the tournament which was billed as rehabilitating England’s worldwide footballing reputation – all combined to turn back years of under investment (A sign of just how acute this underinvestment had been is the fact that when Scunthorpe United moved to Glanford Park in 1988 it was the football league’s first new purpose built ground since 1955).

Unsurprisingly this building-boom went hand-in-hand with an increase in attendances. By the late 1980s there had already been some tentative growth following a several decades-long slide which dated back to the 1950s, but it was in the 1990s that attendance really surged ahead and by the end of the decade the average attendance was around 10,000 higher than it had been at the beginning, a growth of around 50%

Noughties stagnation

By the early noughties however, this growth had begun to level off. This was not through any shortage of demand though as the Premier League, attracting the best players in the world with a winning combination of high wages and low taxes, continued to draw fans back to live football. Rather it was a stretching of supply. As the Premier League’s own figures highlight the stadium occupancy rate had rocketed from 69.6% in its first season in 1992/93 to 91.8% by 1997/98.  In the last full season it was 95.9% in 2013/14. One inevitable consequence of demand catching up with, and in many cases overtaking, supply was sharp rises in ticket prices as clubs sought to take advantage of the law of supply and demand to maximise their matchday revenues.

PL BL att chart2

Meanwhile in Germany Bundesliga attendances, which had also experienced growth in the 90s, continued to increase. As the 2006 World Cup approached a new generation of German Stadia was emerging which were, on the whole, bigger than their English counterparts. For the tournament almost $2bn was spent on the construction of four new stadia, including the Allianz Arena in Munich with a capacity of 69,901 and a cost of $473 million.

Building for the future?

The position today is that the Premier League, for all its TV money and worldwide adulation, has an average attendance rate some 7,000 spectators per game adrift of its rival. As this is a supply, rather than demand, issue the only solution is to increase capacity. There is some evidence that after something of a a lull in activity this is beginning to happen; In the next few seasons West Ham will move to the Olympic Stadium with a capacity of around 54,000, Anfield will be expanded from 45,000 to 59,000 at a reported cost of £100 million while Tottenham are finally advancing with plans for a 56,000 capacity ground.

Of these projects one involves a ready-built stadia which has been built with a large amount of public money, whilst all have experienced numerous delays and set-backs typical with such large-scale projects. And even with these completed the impact on the league averages will not be enough to fully close the gap on the Bundesliga – taking the 2013/14 season data and assuming the three grounds will be at capacity gives a very rough projection of 37,500.

Challenges ahead

Taking a wider view the clear lesson is that left to their own devices, and without a major tournament on the horizon, individual clubs fail to invest enough in their bricks and mortar. One issue is that for mid and lower ranking clubs despite the rapid growth of broadcasting revenue the risks of diverting money away from playing budgets is particularly high especially if relegation occurs. This makes it more attractive as a short term strategy to use the money instead on player wages in order to realise a higher share of broadcasting revenue.

In the meantime the rest of Europe is not standing still. In Germany Frieburg, one of the Bundesliga clubs with a more modest average attendance, around 26,000, are on course to construct a new 35, 000 seat stadium whilst in France clubs have benefitted from a reported 1.6 billion Euro investment in stadia ahead of the 2016 European championships. Finally in Italy there have been moves to upgrade stadia which have aged since the last building bonanza ahead of Italia 90.

The challenge facing English clubs now is to the need to invest a greater proportion of their new revenue into stadia to meet the demand for watching live football. Failure to do so may represent a missed opportunity which one day the league as a whole could well rue.

How to succeed at football blogging

10 Mar

Row Z is now approaching three years old. Old enough for me to have put together an anthology, but also old enough for me to have picked up a few tips for successful blogging. I’m not saying that I follow all these points – it’s a question of time and to an extent will power, but here is my brief list of what I feel are the important points for any football blogger to consider:

Pay attention to style

It might seem superficial to say, but even the best prose in the world is going to look insipid when set in a standard WordPress, or Blogger template. A good, instantly recognisable style can work wonders. It could be a colour palate, a font, a logo, a clever use of images, or even an entire package which cements your blogs identity.

Good example:

In Bed With Maradona – more commonly known as IBWM – is the one to emulate here with its distinctive visual grammar which exudes a type of coolness complementing the leftfield articles the site specialises in.

Teamwork

For all the diversity of the football blogging world there are essentially two types of blogs; Ones operated by individuals as a solo-effort and those run by a collective. Although it’s not impossible for solo blogs to succeed, success is much more likely to be achieved as part of a team effort; A pool of writers means much more content, many more ideas and perspectives, and far less chance of burn-out.

Exploit the gaps

Blogs are at their best when they fill a gap. While there will never be a shortage of broadsheet, tabloid or magazine articles on the race for the Premiership title, or the merits of the Arsenal squad the same can not be said when it comes to an analysis of the Slovenian second division which could expect to receive about a paragraph a year in World Soccer, if lucky.

Good example: Futbolgrad brings in-depth knowledge to focus on a region which despite being of interest to many receives little attention in the mainstream media.

Tweet-Tweet and Tweet again

This was a tip passed on to me by other bloggers – get on Twitter. There is a huge community, or sub-culture, of bloggers and readers on Twitter and it’s a great platform for publicising your posts and engaging with like-minded writers.

Take a wider view of success

When we’re talking about success in blogging what does it actually mean? Most people’s first answer would probably be hits, or for some maybe even money. For others success might mean an effective-stepping stone on to bigger and better things – i.e a job as a paid journalist.

The truth is that success can come in a multitude of forms. It could just as equally be measured by how much you have improved as a writer, how much fun you’ve had, or the number of friends you’ve made along the way. It could even be about some bigger and loftier aim of playing a part in drawing attention to a marginalised or neglected part of the game whether it’s grass-roots, women’s football, or even the Slovenian second division.

If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment.

Wessex League attendance Round Up

27 Feb
The main stand at Miller's Park - this was transplanted from the former ground at Southern Gardens

Spectators in the Wessex League at Totton & Eling

Firstly I’d like to say thank you to the Wessex League for kindly providing me with the attendance tables to enable me to do these charts and analysis. I’ve been quite keen to do this for a while as I know that quite a lot of people have an interest in the Wessex League and you never know a few may be interested in attendances too!

All the figures are up to date as far as last Saturday, the 21st February

Headline figures:

Wessex Lg Prem Home Att

Looking at the basic averages the top three slots are occupied by Winchester City with an average attendance of 152, Newport Isle of Wight on 120 and Andover Town with 114. Just behind them, in fourth place – and the final member of the over 100 club – is AFC Portchester on 103.

In many ways it is unsurprising to see Winchester at the top. Winchester is the largest settlement where a Wessex League side is the top team, with a population of 116,000 according to the 2011 Census.

Similarly Newport, though smaller, enjoys a status as the biggest team on the whole island. Both Newport and Winchester have also played at a higher level and although both have had their troubles they are at present doing well in the league which is likely to be another factor behind their ability to pull in the crowds.

Comparison with last season

Thanks to a broken laptop I have lost the set of complete data for last year’s attendances, but I do know that when I last looked at Wessex League attendances, back in October 2014, Winchester were averaging 169, Newport 134 AFC Portchester 109.  All three are down slightly on last year, something which I will put down to the promotion of Sholing. Arguably this has been (in attendance terms) both bad for the league, and bad for Sholing, who up to last October averaged 168 in the Wessex League, but are currently averaging 127 in the Southern League South and West Division.

Derby games

One of my favourite features of the Wessex league is the local derby games. Last Season I visited Sholing for the derby against Follands Sports who had quite literally travelled just round the road. With a lot of Follands supporters present the atmosphere in the ground was good and Sholing enjoyed a good gate.

Sholing hosting Follands Sports in last seasons derby

Sholing hosting Follands Sports in last seasons derby

The attendance stats clearly suggest that proximity plays a big role in determining match day attendances. Looking at the main derby for each club I’ve compiled a list. As a caveat some games are yet to be played, but it shows that at present the core derby action is concentrated around Winchester with the biggest derby Andover Town v Winchester drawing a Wessex Premier highest gate of 228, with the return fixture at Winchester also pulling in a respectable 191 spectators.

WSX prem derby

Petersfield have taken part in two derbies pulling in 200, at home to Winchester City and away to Moneyfields in what I like to call the A272 and A3 derbies.

One interesting point I noticed is that Newport IOW tended to attract bigger gates against teams based in coastal settlements. The attendance at St Georges Park against Pompey-based Moneyfields was 186, possibly swelled by a few away fans who simply hopped on a ferry (or hovercraft) to enjoy a nice day-trip.

Clubs on the geographic periphery of the league however, face something a disadvantage compared to those clubs which can be found in clusters. Bemerton Heath Harlequins for instance have no real local derby fixture, with nearby clubs Downton and Laverstock & Ford both being in Division One.

Pulling power:

In addition to this I looked at each team’s away attendance. In the Premier Division Winchester with an average of 118, Petersfield on 92 and Moneyfields with  90 enjoyed the biggest crowds on the road. Interestingly Blackfield and Langley have managed to average far more away from home, 89, than the 56 who usually turn up to watch them at Gang Warily. The reverse is true of Newport IOW who despite averaging 120 at home, only manage 69 away, and which I put down to the difficulty and expense Newport fans would have getting to and from places like Verwood, Petersfield and Whitchurch.

wessex Lg away Prem att

As an extra exercise I decided to take the away match day attendances for each team and compare these against the season-so-far average for the home side. I then averaged this out, the idea being to give an indication of how many extra spectators above (or below) the ‘usual’ baseline turned out for each away team.

pulling power chart

The results from this show that on their travels Winchester City, on average, attracted 46 more spectators than could usually be expected at a typical game. This was much higher than joint second placed Petersfield Town and Moneyfields who both, on average, attracted 18 more spectators than could be expected.

There are two explanations for this 1.) That more people come out to watch top teams, or 2.) Winchester, Petersfield and Moneyfields have the biggest travelling support which swells attendances at whichever club is hosting them. A third explanation (and in my view the most likely) is that it is in fact a bit of both – from the figures though it is impossible to separate home from away, or even neutral spectators.

Division One

Cowes Sports top Division One with an average attendance of 90. This is particularly impressive and would put them in fifth place in the Premier Division, just ahead of Petersfield Town. Cowes Sports are also still due to host an all-Cowes derby against East Cowes Vics so their final average could well go up, provided this fixture doesn’t for whatever reason end up being played on a rainy mid-week.

WSX one home att

In 5th place in the League and their Cowes brethren the Vics lying in bottom place Sports can boast of being the islands second team, behind Newport. As we have seen there is a suggestion that Newport do not have much in the way of travelling support, which may be due to logistics – could it be that Cowes Sports are the chief beneficiaries when Newport are off playing in the more far-flung parts of the region?

WSX one away

One of the most interesting points is the difference between Team Solent’s home and away average attendances. So far Solent have attracted just 24 people, on average, to their Test Park base. This figure is the second worst in the league, behind US Portsmouth – a ground to which access involves passing a naval-base checkpoint. Both, of course, experience such attendances as they are sides which are backed by institutions, rather than a local support-base, but those living nearby the Solent ground may be missing something as league-leaders Solent are the biggest draw on the road, averaging 55 per game, just in front of Laverstock & Ford’s 52.

Derbies

In general the division one clubs tend to be located in the far-flung fringes of the region, such as Pewsey Vale which lies roughly between Salisbury and Swindon. A consequence of this is that true derby games are fewer in number, but. there are still a number of derbies of note in Division One. The biggest so far being the Salisbury-area derby between Downton and Laverstock & Ford which drew a crowd of 140

WSX one derbies

In second place, with a crowd of 129 is the Cowes Derby. This is probably made more interesting by the fact that Cowes is divided in two by the river Medina and connected only by a chain-ferry. Cowes Sports hail from West Cowes, while the Vics sit on a hill in East Cowes.

Third place is awarded to Cowes Sports v New Milton Town. It’s always difficult to say what constitutes a derby, but this one just creeps in due to the proximity of New Milton to the island and to ferry services; In any case its tempting to suppose the crowd of 110 may well have been swelled by a few day-trippers.

This concludes the round up which I hope you’ve enjoyed. I’m hoping the league will be kind enough to give me the figures again at the end of the season, so if there’s enough interest I can do this again.

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